Why Google made the right choice in China

Updates:

  • No response from John Battelle,
  • Dave agrees that Google made the best of two bad choices. Jake is also in the engagement camp.
  • We should have a debate on this issue at the next big tech conference.
  • Woz discusses the issue on TWiT, he thinks we should respect them. John thinks that the issue is that Google set the “don’t be evil” benchmark so high.
  • Some folks are dumping Adsense over the issue.
  • The argument against going in via a screen grab (from the comments).

jason starbucks china
A lot of folks, including John Battelle, are taking a hard line on China and our involvement there as technologists. For those of you who don’t know, Google is going into China and they are–shockingly for Google–censoring their results at the Governement’s request. As everyone knows, the Google mantra is don’t be evil, and clearly censorship is very, very evil.

Technologists have limited choices when it comes to China, we can:

1. Fight China’s requests, be kicked out of the country, and have our services permanently blocked.
2. Agree to China’s rules and regulations–even though we don’t agree with them–and get a foothold in the rapidly changing environment.

As we all know–the Chinese government included–there is ultimately no way to hold back freedom of information in China. What the government wants, and I’ve been there and spoken to a lot of people about these issues, is to have *their* change be gradual.

Now, this gradual approach doesn’t feel very American, but the truth is our own journey to democracy was a slow, bloody journey of well over 100 years.

Does it suck that folks in China will search Google and not get perfect results when they search for Tienanmen Square? Of course it does, but they will still be able to search for the Declaration of Human Rights or the latest anonymous surfing relay. Everyone knows the government of China can’t police all of Google, let alone the Internet. No one knows this more than the Chinese government.

Taking a hard line with China will make them pull back and move slower. Giving the people, and the government, a taste of how sweet democracy and a free market can be will draw them in, and once you’ve tasted freedom you can’t go backwards. The place has changed more in the past year than in the past ten, and more in the past ten years than in the past 1,000 years. We’re getting there, and Google is–in fact–being brave in compromising their own ethics to get their foothold in China.

Google doesn’t need to be in China to hit there numbers, they’ve got plenty of growth domestically and in other countries. The “Google Guys” don’t even need to be at Google any more–they could retire and get out of the game. Google is in China because they want to promote positive change, and they’ve picked the most effective–but not popular–way to do that: engagement.

If our goal is to spread democracy in China the quickest way to do that is to make some short-term compromises. Drawing a hard line is the easy, intellectual route to take, but it’s hopelessly naive. Rolling up your sleeves and investing in a market that could collapse or kick you out is, in fact, the courageous route.